November 7, 2013

Google reveals barges may be new technology learning sites

The company ends weeks of speculation about what it has in mind for mysterious structures in Maine and San Francisco.

By Dennis Hoey
Staff Writer

It took four weeks for Internet giant Google to respond, but on Wednesday the California-based company acknowledged for the first time that it has an interest in the mystery barge that has been docked in Portland Harbor since mid-October.

click image to enlarge

Google ended weeks of speculation on Wednesday by announcing that the structures on barges in Portland and San Francisco may be used as floating learning centers.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Google ended weeks of speculation on Wednesday by announcing that the structures on barges in Portland and San Francisco may be used as floating learning centers.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The company said it may use the Portland barge and the four-story structure on it, along with a similar-looking barge and structure docked in San Francisco Bay, as interactive learning centers.

In a statement issued to the Portland Press Herald, Google did not elaborate on what an interactive learning center would entail. But CNN Tech, quoting an affiliate station in San Francisco, said the barge would house a floating showroom for the company’s Google Glass Web-connected eyewear and other products.

KPIX-TV in San Francisco reported that the barges will be part of a small fleet of luxury event spaces, complete with party decks, that are designed to be disassembled and transported by barge or train to other locations.

Google’s Press Team e-mailed a brief and somewhat whimsical statement to the Press Herald in an effort to explain the barge’s purpose.

The statement does not provide details on what an interactive learning center would be, and the press team did not respond to an e-mail seeking additional information on how long the barge would be in Portland, where it would be taken afterward, and why the learning center is being built on a barge.

“Google Barge ... A floating data center? A wild party boat? A barge housing the last remaining dinosaur? Sadly, none of the above,” Google’s Press Team said. “Although it’s still early days and things may change, we’re exploring using the barge as an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”

Speculation about the purpose of the barges had focused largely on Google’s patented plans to build floating data centers, which would use ocean water to cool massive computer servers used to store and process data.

The four-story structure in Portland was assembled this past year on a barge that had been docked in New London, Conn. The structures on both coasts were built using 40-foot-long shipping containers.

Tugboats towed the East Coast barge last month from New London to Rickers Wharf on Portland’s waterfront, a facility owned by Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp. Cianbro has been hired to install undisclosed technological equipment in the structure.

Contacted Wednesday, Cianbro President and Chief Executive Officer Peter Vigue repeated what he has said in past interviews about the barge: “I am not at liberty to respond to your questions, or to discuss the barge in any way.”

Google has been building the structure in San Francisco Bay for several weeks, but has managed to conceal its purpose by doing the work on docked barges instead of on land, where city building permits and public plans would be mandatory, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. Coast Guard inspectors who visited both construction sites could not discuss what they saw. Lt. Anna Dixon said non-disclosure agreements were signed, but that those were not necessary, and that the Coast Guard typically doesn’t share proprietary information it sees during inspections.

If Google wants to operate an on-barge interactive learning center in San Francisco Bay, the firm will eventually need to get permission from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city has not to his knowledge been contacted by Google about operating an interactive learning center on the city’s waterfront.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said Wednesday.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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